Summer’s on the way. Which means goodbye sweater season and hello bikinis (or swim trunk)! If only you can shed fat and reveal your abs like that. What are the secrets to reaching that goal? According to science, there’s a lot to help you get a flat stomach.
Still, there’s no easy way out.
You have to cut the guilty pleasures out of your life. And get into the habit of regular exercise. But that doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself. And burn a hole in your floor doing ab workouts.
Take a look at these best science-backed ways to get a flat stomach. And you’ll be ready for summer. Just in time!
1. Do more than just ab workouts
Spot reducing is advertised by many. But according to Yale and other experts, it’s just a myth.
Doing 500 crunches per day will define your abs. No doubt about it. But if you have a layer of fat, that’ll just get pushed out. And you will look even bigger.
You have to burn the fat hiding your abs. But to do so, you need to burn fat all over your body.
Muscle cells can’t use fat directly. The fat has to be broken down into other molecules, such as
glycerol. Then it can enter the bloodstream and be used up. When you exercise, the fat from anywhere in your body can be used. Not just the body part you’re working on.
But ab workouts are still a definite must in your routine.
Try this: plank variations
Planks will tighten your entire core. Not only will your midsection get stronger, so will your arms and legs. Start by holding the pose for a few seconds. Work your way up to a few minutes.
2. Jog in the morning and night
Another negative to spot reduction is that the exercises don’t burn enough calories.
In order for you to do so, add some aerobic exercises. Those are also known as cardio workouts.
They stimulate your heart rate and breathing rate.
During these exercises, your heart pumps a whole lot more blood. And more oxygen enters the bloodstream too. Once inside your muscles, the oxygen burns fat and carbs. Cardio workouts, like
45 minute jogs every day, are the fastest way to get an effect.
Try this: morning jog
For the best result, try going for a run before breakfast each morning. Studies show that you can burn up to 20% more fat in the fasted state. The researchers found that those who exercise in the morning don’t experience an increase in appetite either.
That’s right! More fat burned, less calories eaten.
After dinner, you can also go for a walk or slow jog. It can help with digestion and curb the temptations to eat dessert and snacks.
3. Add in weight training
You’ll be slimming down a lot at first. But when your metabolism gets used to the intensity, the effect might start to die down a little. You can increase the intensity. Or add weight training to your routine.
According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, weight trainers gain less fat than when doing cardio. Even when they spend the same amount of time working out. Those who do strength training have less of an increase in abdominal fat.
This is because strength training results in greater EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). Also known as the afterburn effect. Your body has to work harder to build back the oxygen stores.
Weight training also creates micro-tears in your muscles. These use up more energy during the healing process. This results in calories being burned up to 2 days after the actual workout!
Mekary, the lead researcher, recommends working out all your muscle groups at least once a week. And continue with aerobic steady-state cardios the rest of the days.
Try this: HIIT program
HIIT (high-intensity interval training) has been found to help participants shed pounds after only 2 weeks.
You can create a program for your cardio workouts. And, of course, for a full body strength training.
4. Find strength in yoga
Yoga makes you twist, turn and hold yourself. These complicated poses can really push your body to its limits. It’s not a typical aerobic exercise, but most yoga sessions are long. They keep your muscles working the entire time. The benefits are similar to that of weight training.
But yoga helps you get in shape for different reasons. Yoga is really about exercising your mind. According the associate professor Beth Lewis from University of Minneapolis, the practice makes you more mindful.
Yoga can change your entire lifestyle. You'll be more aware of your food choices and go for healthier foods.
This meditative exercise offers many other benefits as well. Such as reducing stress and risk of cardiovascular disease. It might also lessen your anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Try this: Downward dog position (and much more!)
There are various levels of intensity focusing on different parts. Make sure you choose the yoga practice most suitable for you.
And for best results, try to do yoga every day!
5. Stand up straight
Straighten your spine, stop slouching and suck in your tummy.
This is something you can, and should do, every waking second. A good posture can make you look pounds skinnier instantly.
But if you keep it up, you really can shed some pounds. Posture has a great effect on your ab muscles. By sucking your stomach in, you keep the muscles close to your spine. For a long period of time.
This lets you work out those muscles and puts you on the way for a truly flat stomach. Literally just by standing (or sitting) there! Isn’t that great?
Now that you have a good basis for working out, let’s talk about your diet. Obviously the less calories and fat you eat, the better. But that doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself. Just eat smarter.
6. Starve a little, sometimes
That probably sounds scary. And maybe goes against everything people say about healthy dieting.
But fasting has been practiced by humans for centuries for various reasons.
Intermittent fasting is safe and backed by science.
When you practice intermittent fasting, you switch between periods of eating and fasting. One to three days per week, eat less than 500 calories per day. But for other days, you can eat without restrictions (but still staying healthy.)
Alternate-day fasting is a variation. You go one day eating normally, then fast the next day and so on.
According to studies, fasting can help prevent or delay multiple diseases. These include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, asthma and more.
And it can help flatten your stomach as well. In one study, people went through intermittent fasting for a period of 6 to 24 weeks. They lost around 4 to 7 percent of abdominal fat!
Try this: 16/8 method
Fast for 16 hours per day. This gives you 8 hours where you can eat. (Sleeping more can help the time go by faster.)
More intermittent fasting methods are here.
7. No (refined) carb diet
Some diets call for only carbs. But that doesn’t make much sense.
Reducing carb consumption is amazingly helpful with losing belly fat. A low carbohydrate diet may be more effective than a low fat diet. In an 8 week study, participants had an average of 4.4% less fat.
But don’t cut all carbs from your diet. Instead, replace refined carbs with natural ones. Refined grains and sugars supply your body with glucose. Good if you exercise a lot. Bad if you let it sit there.
Try this: eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables
8. Lean proteins are your best friend
Protein is great because it helps build muscle mass. In addition, it helps keep your hair, skin and hormones in a healthy balance.
How does it help you with weight control though?
When you lose weight, you may lose muscle mass as well. Protein helps you retain your hard-earned muscles. It can also raise your metabolic rate. In many studies, high protein intake leads to a decrease of abdominal fat.
In addition, protein stimulates release of PYY. This is a fullness hormone which decreases your appetite. So you eat less.
Many delicious foods are great sources of protein. Try to include some protein into every meal. More protein is always better.
And if you’re feeling hungry, grab a protein bar instead of chocolate!
9. Make sure you get enough magnesium
When dieting, it’s not enough to just look at the carbs, calories and fat count. The vitamins and minerals are also important. One crucial mineral is magnesium. It is involved in more than 300 functions.
Experts say that most people don’t get enough of it. When you are magnesium deficient, you have higher risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis.
But wait, there’s more! A study posted in the Journal of Nutrition revealed that magnesium leads to lower levels of insulin and fasting glucose. These are both signals of fat gain. So this means magnesium may helps with weight loss.
Try this: eat leafy greens
Other sources of magnesium include beans and nuts.
The recommended amount for adult men is 420 mg. For women, 320 mg is recommended. More details are available here.
10. Away with the salt
Do you ever get bloated after eating a salty meal? It’s not just you!
All the salt causes the water in your bloodstream to diffuse into your skin. Your body then holds onto more water to dilute the salt. This means more work on the heart and blood vessels.
The recommended amount of sodium is only 2,3000 mg per day. But most people go way over that. A host of problems can occur. It leads to heart failure and all sorts of cardiovascular diseases.
Though sodium can’t really help with the fat, it can cut some water weight. Lowering your sodium intake will make you look less puffy and bloated too. Plus, many unhealthy and fattening foods are full of sodium. Like chips, fries and more.
Try this: use spices and herbs to boost flavor instead of salt!
Read on for some notable spices.
11. Use cinnamon for sweeter meals
Cinnamon is different from the fattening sugars (which you’ll read about later.) Though loved by those with a sweet tooth, it has many health benefits.
The Journal Diabetes Care published a study involving 60 participants. One group consumed at least 1 gram of cinnamon per day. After 40 days, there were amazing results!
Their “bad” LDL cholesterol decreased up to 27%. Triglyceride levels had a decrease of up to 30%. Fasting glucose levels decreased as well. Ranging from 18% to 29%.
Overall, cinnamon helps reduce insulin spikes. This helps your body become more sensitive to insulin, thus controlling your weight.
Try this: use Ceylon cinnamon in your cooking and baking
This cinnamon is known as “true” cinnamon.
12. Get spicy!
Okay, continuing on with the concept of switching out the salt for other spices. Why not go for cayenne and chili peppers?
Not only will it give your food an extra pop. It’ll flatten your stomach too. The burn in the peppers comes from capsaicin. This hot stuff is analgesic. Which means it suppresses pain.
On top of that, it boosts your metabolism. By consuming capsaicin, you can reduce your energy intake. Spicy food can also increase fat oxidation in your body.
And more importantly, it increases feelings of fullness. Eating red chili peppers makes you feel more full. It’ll stop you from going after those fattening desserts!
· Try this: Spice up your meals by sprinkling chili powder.
You probably know that fiber helps clean out your digestive tract.
When the soluble fiber absorbs water, it helps slow down food during the process. It has been found to decrease fat digestibility. Since it’s harder to digest, you’ll absorb less calories and fat too.
Like capsaicin, fiber increases satiety. It stimulates signals of fullness earlier than usual. You’ll eat less without feeling the hunger pains!
There's concrete evidence on how fiber helps shed belly fat too. One study looked at the diets and abdominal fat of over 1000 adults for 5 years. Results showed that with every 10 grams of fiber intake, muffin top gain decreased by 3.7%.
Participants who exercised regularly had even better results: 7.4% less belly fat gain.
· Try this: make salad or yogurt parfait with fiber-rich foods
Foods high in fiber include: avocado, raspberry, oats, almonds, chia seeds and dark chocolate.
14. Know your fats: stay away from trans fat
Something you obviously should stay away from. But like with everything, there are goods and bads to it. You can’t cut all fats out of your diet. Just make sure you know what the bad fats are. Such as trans fat.
But artificial trans fat is a totally different story. Industrial trans fat is created when hydrogen is pumped into unsaturated fat. The liquid (oil) turns into a solid.
This is usually done to vegetable oil to increase its shelf life. But the artificial fat increases bad cholesterol and risk of coronary heart disease. It can lead to type 2 diabetes. And more belly fat too.
· Try this: to avoid trans fat, make sure you read the nutrition labels carefully
In the ingredient labels, trans fat may be listed as “partially hydrogenated.”
Artificial trans fat is most commonly included in: vegetable oil, margarine and processed foods. Try using natural butter and olive oil instead.
15. And saturated fat
The other half of the evil fat duo is saturated fat. You may already know about it, but it never hurts to go over the facts again.
Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature (like trans fat.) According to the American Heart Association, saturated fat can increase risks of heart disease. It will most definitely raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Experts recommend limiting saturated fat to 120 calories per day.
What should you avoid? Overall, food that contains saturated fats all have animal sources.
· Red meat
· Fatty meat
· Lard, butter and cream
· Whole or reduced fat milk
· Baked food
· Fried food
Some healthy things, such as coconut oil, include saturated fat too. But it doesn’t contain any cholesterol.
What can you do? Switch out the trans and saturated fat for unsaturated fat.
16. Get your fill of unsaturated fat
Your healthy fats are monounsaturated fat (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFA). Both of these are great for losing weight!
Eating these gives you the opposite effect of unhealthy fats. You’ll actually experience lower triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels.
Which one is better though? A study divided their participants (obese women) into two groups. One had a high MUFA diet. The other group had PUFA.
At the end, the MUFA group had lower body weight, body mass index, body fat mass and waist circumference.
Here are some foods high in monounsaturated fat:
· Olive, canola and peanut oil
· Nuts (almonds, cashews and pecans)
Note: despite the benefits, don’t go overboard! At the end of the day, MUFA and PUFA are still fats. And still high in calories.
17. Replace fats with coconut oil
Now, we’ve ruled out vegetable oil for cooking. There are a lot of healthy options to choose from.
One of the healthiest fats is coconut oil. It has many science-backed benefits.
It has actually been found to help burn more fat. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Along with long-chain triglycerides (LCT), this boosts the amount of calories burned. Fifteen to thirty grams of MCT can increase your energy expenditure by 5%. That’s 120 calories in 1 day!
The way coconut oil is metabolized may reduce hunger too. In one study, men with high MCT breakfasts ate less at lunch.
What does all this add up to? Just 2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day was able to decrease waist circumference by around 3 inches after 4 weeks.
In another study, women consumed 2 tablespoons per day as well. After 12 weeks, the results:
Increase in “good” HDL cholesterol
Decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol
Reduction in BMI
Reduction in waist circumference
This was all done without changing their exercise routines or other dieting habits! So make sure you try switching some fats out for coconut oil.
18. Treat yourself to fatty fish
Another type of healthy fat is found in fatty fish. These fish contain omega-3 fatty acids. Which happen to be polyunsaturated fats!
Omega-3 boasts a host of health benefits. It aids neurological development in infants, helps with depression and can even reduce asthma.
Studies have also shown that omega-3 can reduce visceral fat. Fish oil supplements can significantly decrease fat mass and increase lean mass.
It can reduce liver fat as well. In a study with overweight children, the supplements reduced liver fat by 53.4 percent! The researchers concluded that fish oil can reduce belly fat, as well as metabolic abnormalities.
· Try this: Make a fatty fish dish once a week
You can choose between salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring.
19. Stay away from fructose
We all know sugar is bad for you. But fructose is even worse.
Fructose is sweeter than glucose. In occurs naturally in fruit as a signal that the fruit is nutritious. But when found in things like soft drinks, all you get are calories. Just like with trans fat, the artificial type can lead to various diseases.
One study looked at 559 adolescents. Those that consumed more sugar had much higher rates of obesity. They also had signals of cardiometabolic risk. At such a young age!
What’s worse is that you may get addicted to the sweetness.
· Try this: go for “healthy” sugars such as fruits and real honey
However, even though they are healthier, the sugar content is still no joke. Eating a balanced diet is the most important.
20. Stay away from sugary drinks (that includes fruit juice)
Yes, the high fructose content in fruit means that the fruit is healthy. It contains all the vitamins and minerals your body will love.
But even unsweetened apple juice contains around 24 grams of sugar. More than half of that is fructose. And many people drink sweetened or artificially flavored fruit juices. Which will undoubtedly contain more unhealthy sugars.
Drinking excess amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked with obesity.
While you need to be eating a lot of fruit to reach that point, the same can’t be said for other drinks. To stay safe, avoid soda and other sugary beverages at all cost! If you must, consider diluting it with water.
· Try this: drink lemon water
Lemon water (different from lemonade) has many health benefits, including weight loss. You can also try sparkling water, unsweetened tea. Or just plain water.
21. Drink some coffee
Coffee is one of those things that are wrongly hated on. Yes, there are negative side effects. No doubt about it. But if you consume caffeine in moderate amounts (like 3 cups of coffee per day), good things can happen.
Compared to other beverages, coffee has more dietary fiber. And if you don’t add any sugar and/or cream, there are barely any calories either.
22. Or drink green tea
Like coffee, green tea contains caffeine. It also contains an antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
This great component boasts functions such as anti-aging properties, preventing structural damage in your body. And boosting metabolism.
In one study, the participants drank a catechin drink once per day. Body fat, especially those around the stomach, were significantly reduced.
For best results, pair green tea with your workout routine. These catechins in green tea enhances the effects exercise has on losing belly fat.
23. Or apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a fashion trend. This means that you’ll be able to find tons of articles praising its miraculous benefits.
Some are straight up myths. But there are some scientific evidence behind its weight loss effect.
In another study, obese men drank 1 tablespoon of ACV every day. After 12 weeks, they lost 1.4 cm in waist circumference. Visceral fat area, weight and BMI all reduced significantly too. That’s without adding exercise or changing their diets.
In addition, the acetic acid increases feelings of fullness. It can help you eat around 300 less calories per day!
· Try this: drink apple cider vinegar on an empty stomach (and make sure you include the “gunk” on the bottom. That’s where all the good stuff is.)
24. Stay hydrated in general
You can’t go wrong with drinking water. You can survive around a week without food. But try going a few days without water . . .
We all know that we need around 8 cups of water per day. That actually includes the water contained in food. But the more water you drink, the better.
Drinking warm water causes a thermogenic response. This is often used in weight loss programs to increase energy expenditure.
Water also boosts your metabolic rate. Experts from Germany found that after 10 minutes of drinking 500 ml of water, your rate goes up by 30%. Imagine the effect of that!
In addition, drinking water before meals can help you eat less. In one study, two groups of overweight adults followed a hypocaloric diet with or without water. The water group lost 44% more weight.
If you add regular exercise to that combo, the results will be even better!
· Try this: chug natural and clear water before each meal
Not only will you shed pounds, your skin will be brighter too! If you don’t like the bland taste of water, check out some other detox drinks. These juices include lemon, cucumber and cranberry.
25. Go probiotic
If you like yogurt, you’ve probably heard of probiotics.
This type of friendly bacteria and yeasts are great for your digestive system. They step in when other good bacteria are wiped out. They also keep your body balanced between the good and bad.
Various studies have proved that they are essential for gut health. They can also boost your immune system.
Some probiotics play a role in flattening stomachs. Members of the Lactobacillus family, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus was able to help obese women lose weight.
Try this: Snack on yogurt after meals
Yogurt includes many Lactobacillus probiotics. When eating yogurt for losing belly fat, make sure to look at the calories, fat and sugars!
If you don’t like yogurt, there are alternatives. You can also go for probiotic supplements.
26. And prebiotic!
The often ignored cousin of probiotics are prebiotics. They may be even more beneficial than probiotics though.
While probiotics are awesome, they can be killed easily. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a type of fiber. They act like food for good bacteria. They’re stronger and are more likely to survive long enough to give you the benefits.
Many weight-loss foods include prebiotics. Such as apple cider vinegar, mentioned above. Other prebiotic foods include: onions, leeks, bananas and more.
Try this: eat prebiotics with probiotics
Experts actually recommend eating these two together. This way, the pre can protect the pro. Giving you the maximum effect!
Take a look at rich sources of these. You'll see it’s not hard to include them into your healthy diet.
27. Take your time while eating
Eating is a process that takes time.
When your stomach starts getting filled with food, your brain is signaled. Hormones such as CCK are released in response. Together, they work to create satiety, making you feel full.
All this takes around 20 minutes. So you could have continued eating for 20 minutes without even needing to!
The researchers found that eating slowly increases water consumption too! Both of these are great for achieving flat stomachs.
This might be the easiest way to lose weight. Just take your time and enjoy your food!C
28. Change your eating habits easily
So you have the habit of mindlessly snacking. But guess what? It’s actually easy to get rid of that fattening and unhealthy habit!
It has nothing to do with willpower. It’s really your subconscious. Your brain associates certain food with a certain environment. If you eat chips while watching TV, you’ll keep doing that. Even if the chips taste bad. As long as the TV is on, you’ll keep munching.
This is exemplified by one popcorn experiment. Moviegoers were either given fresh popcorn or stale popcorn.
Those that didn’t usually eat popcorn at the movies didn’t bother with the gross stuff. But if they had the habit, they ate just as they always did. Even though the popcorn was week-old and cold!
It might be hard to keep changing your eating environment. But the researchers conducted a follow-up experiment. They found that switching to your non-dominant hand is enough of a change for your brain.
Try this: use your other hand for grabbing snacks
This change will wake you up from the mindless eating. When that happens, stop.
Or you can switch out the junk food. And add in the healthy stuff.
29. Schedule when you eat
This is related to intermittent fasting.
When you eat is just as important as what you eat. Maybe even more.
One of the worst sins you can commit while dieting is eating midnight snacks. A study from Spain supports advice on not eating too late in the day.
The study included overweight women with similar physical activity and caloric intake. The only difference was when they had lunch. Those who ate lunch before 3 p.m. loss 25% more weight! That’s a big difference, just by moving the meal up.
Another study looked at two groups of mice. Both groups ate around the same amount of food. But they were either free to eat whenever, or had a strict eating schedule. And those with a schedule had much lower risks of obesity.
Try this: set up an eating schedule and stick to it. Have meals earlier in the day and eat a lighter dinner.
If you get too hungry at night, try sleeping earlier!
30. And write down what you eat
Of course, what you eat is still a really important component in getting a flat stomach. Because eating less calories is the key way to achieving a flat belly.
Many experts recommend tracking what you eat and your calorie intake. You can write a food diary. There are tons of food tracking websites and apps too.
If you’ve been eating too much guilty food, seeing it written down might actually make you feel guilty. You can also see a breakdown of your nutrient intake.
Use the tracker to hold yourself accountable. See what you need to add/take away from your diet. Many of these websites and apps allow you to record your exercise too. This can work to the same effect.
Try this: use a calorie counter
Free apps and websites you can use for your food diary are here.
31. Avoid the beer belly
Seriously, there’s a reason why it’s called a “beer belly.”
Too much alcohol will make you gain fat. Because your liver usually burns fat. But when you drink, it has to break down the alcohol instead.
Various observational studies link heavy alcohol drinking with increased risk of central obesity. That means extra fat around your waist.
That doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to beer and alcohol! You can drink every day, but keep it down to one drink per day.
In a study that looked at more than 2000 people, participants were divided into 2 groups. In the first, they had 1 drink daily. The other only drank a few days, but had more drinks.
Those that drank daily, but limited themselves, had flatter stomachs!
Try this: limit yourself to one drink per day
But for optimum health, staying away from alcohol is still recommended.
32. Squeeze the stress ball
If you’re stressed because of the fat, then that’s unfortunate. Because the stress is probably making things worse.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It is produced when you are stressed. And this hormone is responsible for many things that make you fat.
Such as increasing your appetite (which may be why you want to eat your sadness away.) And increasing fat storage near your abdominal.
If you already have a large waistline, you might produce even more cortisol than is typical.
Thankfully many weight loss methods help reduce stress!
Try this: meditate and practice yoga to reduce stress
33. Sleep like a baby
Sleep helps you lose weight. Not just because you’re not able to eat while sleeping.
Studies have actually shown that those who don’t sleep enough are more likely to gain weight. Especially belly fat.
One study spanned 16 years and more than 68,000 women participated. Those who slept less than 5 hours every night had higher risk of gaining weight.
Sleep quality matters too. There is something called sleep fragmentation. This is when your sleep cycle is constantly disrupted.
According to the American Journal of Nutrition, this can damage your health. There are higher rates of daytime exhaustion and a decrease in fat oxidation. This can lead to becoming overweight or obese.
Sleep apnea has also been linked to excess belly fat.
Main takeaway of this article: eat and drink healthily, exercise regularly, sleep well and stop stressing. That’s really all you need. And you’re on the way to a flat stomach!
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.